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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at Mass
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, we are celebrating Christ, Light of the world, and his manifestation to the peoples. On Christmas Day the message of the liturgy rings out in these words: "Hodie descendit lux magna super terram - Today, a great light descends upon earth". In Bethlehem this "great light" appeared to a handful of people, a tiny "remnant of Israel": the Virgin Mary, her husband Joseph and a few shepherds. It was a humble light, as is the style of the true God; a little flame kindled in the night: a fragile newborn infant wailing in the silence of the world... but this hidden, unknown birth was accompanied by the hymns of praise of the heavenly hosts singing of glory and peace.

So it was that although the appearance of this light on earth was modest, it was powerfully projected in the heavens: the birth of the King of the Jews had been announced by the rising of a star, visible from afar. This was attested to by some "wise men" who had come to Jerusalem from the East shortly after Jesus' birth, in the time of King Herod. Once again heaven and earth, the cosmos and history, call to each other and respond. The ancient prophecies find confirmation in the language of the stars. "A star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Nm 24: 17), announced Balaam, the pagan seer, when he was summoned to curse the People of Israel, whom he instead blessed because, as God had revealed to him, "they are blessed". In his Commentary on Matthew's Gospel, Cromatius of Aquileia establishes a connection between Balaam and the Magi: "He prophesied that Christ would come; they saw him with the eyes of faith". And he adds an important observation: "The star was seen by everyone but not everyone understood its meaning. Likewise, our Lord and Saviour was born for everyone, but not everyone has welcomed him." Here, the meaning of the symbol of light applied to Christ's birth appears: it expresses God's special blessing on Abraham's descendents, destined to be extended to all the peoples of the earth.

The Gospel event which we commemorate on the Epiphany - the Magi's visit to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem - thus refers us back to the origins of the history of God's People, that is, to Abraham's call. We are in chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis. The first 11 chapters are like great frescos that answer some of humanity's fundamental questions: what is the origin of the universe and of the human race? Where does evil come from? Why are there different languages and civilizations? Among the narratives with which the Bible begins, there appears a first "covenant" which God made with Noah after the flood. It was a universal covenant concerning the whole of humanity: the new pact with Noah's family is at the same time a pact with "all flesh". Then, before Abraham's call, there is another great fresco which is very important for understanding the meaning of Epiphany: that of the Tower of Babel. The sacred text says that in the beginning, "the whole earth had one language and few words" (Gn 11: 1). Then men said: "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." The consequence of this sin of pride, similar to that of Adam and Eve, was the confusion of languages and the dispersion of humanity over all the earth. This means "Babel" and was a sort of curse, similar to being banished from the earthly paradise.

At this point, with Abraham's call, the story of the blessing begins: it is the beginning of God's great plan to make humanity one family through the covenant with a new people, chosen by him to be a blessing among all the peoples. This divine plan is still being implemented; it culminated in the mystery of Christ. It was then that the "last times" began, in the sense that the plan was fully revealed and brought about in Christ but needs to be accepted by human history, which always remains a history of fidelity on God's part, but unfortunately also of infidelity on the part of us human beings. The Church herself, the depository of the blessing, is holy and made up of sinners, marked by tension between the "already" and the "not yet". In the fullness of time Jesus Christ came to bring the covenant to completion: he himself, true God and true man, is the Sacrament of God's fidelity to his plan of salvation for all humanity, for all of us.

The arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi from the East to adore the newborn Messiah is a sign of the manifestation of the universal King to the peoples and to all who seek the truth. It is the beginning of a movement opposed to that of Babel: from confusion to comprehension, from dispersion to reconciliation. Thus, we discern a link between Epiphany and Pentecost: if the Nativity of Christ, who is the Head, is also the Nativity of the Church, his Body, we can see the Magi as the peoples who join the remnant of Israel, foretelling the great sign of the "polyglot Church" that the Holy Spirit carried out 50 days after Easter. The faithful and tenacious love of God which is never lacking in his covenant from generation to generation is the "mystery" of which St Paul speaks in his Letters and in the passage from the Letter to the Ephesians which has just been proclaimed: the Apostle says that this mystery "was made known to me by revelation" (Eph 3: 3).

This "mystery" of God's fidelity constitutes the hope of history. It is of course opposed by the impulses of division and tyranny that wound humanity due to sin and conflicts of selfishness. The Church in history is at the service of this "mystery" of blessing for all humanity. The Church fully carries out her mission in this mystery of God's fidelity only when she reflects the light of Christ the Lord within herself and so helps the peoples of the world on their way to peace and authentic progress. Indeed, God's Word revealed through the Prophet Isaiah still continues to apply: "darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you" (Is 60: 2). What the prophet proclaimed in Jerusalem was to be fulfilled in Christ's Church: "nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Is 60: 3).

With Jesus Christ, Abraham's blessing was extended to all peoples, to the universal Church as the new Israel which welcomes within her the whole of humanity. Yet, what the prophet said is also true today in many senses: "thick darkness [covers] the peoples" and our history. Indeed, it cannot be said that "globalization" is synonymous with "world order" - it is quite the opposite. Conflicts for economic supremacy and hoarding resources of energy, water and raw materials hinder the work of all who are striving at every level to build a just and supportive world. There is a need for greater hope, which will make it possible to prefer the common good of all to the luxury of the few and the poverty of the many. "This great hope can only be God... not any god, but the God who has a human face" (Spe Salvi, n 31): the God who showed himself in the Child of Bethlehem and the Crucified and Risen One. If there is great hope, it is possible to persevere in sobriety. If true hope is lacking, happiness is sought in drunkenness, in the superfluous, in excesses, and we ruin ourselves and the world. It is then that moderation is not only an ascetic rule but also a path of salvation for humanity. It is already obvious that only by adopting a sober lifestyle, accompanied by a serious effort for a fair distribution of riches, will it be possible to establish an order of just and sustainable development. For this reason we need people who nourish great hope and thus have great courage: the courage of the Magi, who made a long journey following a star and were able to kneel before a Child and offer him their precious gifts. We all need this courage, anchored to firm hope. May Mary obtain it for us, accompanying us on our earthly pilgrimage with her maternal protection. Amen!"

Papa Benedetto's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, despite the rain, we joyfully celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, his manifestation to the peoples of the entire world, represented by the Magi who came from the East to render homage to the King of the Jews. Observing the heavenly phenomena, these mysterious personages had seen a new star and, instructed by the ancient prophets as well, they recognized in it the sign of the Messiah's birth, a descendant of David (cf. Mt 2: 1-12). From its initial appearance, therefore, the light of Christ began to attract to himself the people "with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2: 14), of every tongue, people and culture. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that moves hearts and minds to seek truth, beauty, justice, peace. It is what the Servant of God John Paul II affirmed in the Encyclical Fides et Ratio: "men and women are on a journey of discovery which is humanly unstoppable - a search for the truth and a search for a person to whom they might entrust themselves" (n. 33). The Magi found both of these realities in the Child of Bethlehem.

Men and women of every generation need on their pilgrim journey to be directed: what star can we therefore follow? After coming to rest "over the place where the child was" (Mt 2: 9), the purpose of the star that guided the Magi ended, but its spiritual light is always present in the Word of the Gospel, which is still able today to guide every person to Jesus. This same Word, which is none other than the reflection of Christ, true man and true God, is authoritatively echoed by the Church for every well-disposed heart. The Church too, therefore, carries out the mission of the star for humanity. But something of the sort could be said of each Christian, called to illuminate the path of the brethren by word and example of life. How important it is that we Christians are faithful to our vocation! Every authentic believer is always travelling his own personal itinerary of faith, and at the same time, with the little light that he carries within himself, can and must be a help to those alongside him, and even help the one for whom finding the way that leads to Christ is difficult.

While we prepare ourselves to pray the Angelus, I address my most cordial greetings to the brothers and sisters of the Eastern Church who, following the Julian calendar, will celebrate Christmas tomorrow. It is a great joy to share the mysteries of the faith in the multiform richness of the Rites that witness to the Church's bimillenial history. Together with the Eastern Christian Community, greatly devoted to the Holy Mother of God, we invoke the protection of Mary on the universal Church, so that it may spread in the entire world the Gospel of Christ, Lumen gentium, light of all peoples."

After the Angelus

"Oggi si celebra la Giornata Missionaria Mondiale dell’Infanzia. Da più di 160 anni, per iniziativa del vescovo francese Charles de Forbin Janson, l’Infanzia di Gesù è diventata l’icona per l’impegno dei bambini cristiani che aiutano la Chiesa nel suo compito di evangelizzazione con la preghiera, il sacrificio e i gesti di solidarietà. Migliaia di bambini vanno incontro alle necessità di altri bambini, spinti dall’amore che il Figlio di Dio, fattosi fanciullo, ha portato sulla terra. Dico grazie a questi piccoli e prego perché siano sempre missionari del Vangelo. Ringrazio anche i loro animatori, che li accompagnano sulla strada della generosità, della fraternità, della fede gioiosa che genera speranza.

Je salue avec joie les pèlerins francophones, notamment les scouts de la paroisse Saint-Séverin de Paris. En ce jour de l’Épiphanie, comme les Mages qui viennent adorer l’Enfant-Dieu et lui offrir leurs présents, je vous invite à contempler le Christ Sauveur, pour affermir votre foi et pour partager avec tous vos frères la bonne nouvelle de l’espérance du salut. Que la Vierge Marie vous aide dans votre vie chrétienne. Avec ma Bénédiction apostolique. Bonne fête de l’Épiphanie à tous.

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus. Today we celebrate the Solemn Feast of the Epiphany when our Lord made himself known to the Gentiles. Christ continues to manifest himself to men and women of all nations inviting them to share in the inheritance of grace. Let us all cooperate in this task and bear joyful witness to Jesus our Saviour by following closely his teachings and example. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome and a happy Feast Day!

Mit Freude grüße ich alle Pilger aus dem deutschen Sprachraum am heutigen Hochfest der Erscheinung des Herrn. Jesus Christus ist das Licht der Völker, das alle Menschen zum Heil ruft. Die Sterndeuter haben das Licht des Herrn erkannt und im Kind von Bethlehem den Erlöser der Welt gefunden. Gott schenkt auch uns heute seine rettende Nähe. Seine Gegenwart erleuchte unser Leben und helfe uns, seine Liebe zu den Menschen zu bringen. Euch allen wünsche ich einen gesegneten Festtag.

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española. Queridos hermanos, en esta solemnidad de la Epifanía, contemplando a los Magos de Oriente que vienen a adorar a Cristo, único Salvador de la humanidad, también nosotros queremos ofrecerle todo el amor de nuestro corazón, y el deseo de que todos los hombres encuentren en Él la verdad que da sentido a sus vidas. ¡Feliz domingo!

Moje serdeczne pozdrowienie przekazuję wszystkim Polakom. Mędrcy ze Wschodu, idąc za światłem gwiazdy odnaleźli drogę do Betlejem, spotkali Jezusa. Niech Maryja – „Gwiazda zaranna", tak opromienia swym blaskiem w nowym roku drogi naszego życia, byśmy w ciszy serc mogli spotkać Zbawiciela, który zamieszkał między nami. Z serca wam błogosławię.

Saluto con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare i fedeli di Grottaglie ed il corteo dei Re Magi, ispirato quest’anno alle tradizioni del territorio di Subiaco e Arcinazzo. A tutti buona festa e ancora tanti auguri di buon anno."

BXVI - Sunday, 6 January 2008 - © Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana